Large shrubs or small to medium trees, 3–20 m tall. Twigs slender, pubescent, brown, turning grey with age. Leaves oblong-ovate to oblanceolate, 2–7 × 0.6–3.4 cm, dark green above, paler grey, canescent beneath. Margins serrate, occasionally crenate. Petioles 2–7 mm long. Flowers white, scented, bell-shaped, produced singly from leaf axils, on pendulous stalks 1–3 cm long. Corolla campanulate, petals 5, fleshy, 1–1.8 cm long, apices shallowly toothed. Fruit 1.1–2.6 × 0.2–1.1 cm, obovoid, hairless, red crimson when fresh, drying brown with tan speckles. (Bean 1976; Bricker 1991; Hogan 2008; Gardner 2011).
Distribution Chile Between Anconcaqua and Concepcion
USDA Hardiness Zone 9a
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Often seen as the more demure of the two species, it seems Crinodendron patagua has always played second fiddle to its showier, more glamorous cousin C. hookerianum. H.J. Elwes was the first European to collect seed on his trip to central Chile, introducing it under the name Tricuspidaria dependens in 1901 (Edwards & Marshall 2019; Clayton 2020). Ever since, it has remained the rarer of the two species in cultivation, less often seen in nurseries and planted in gardens. Although not showy, it is far from unattractive; its white flowers are borne elegantly on the long pedicels characteristic of the genus in late July and August. This appearance has earned it the name Evergreen Snowbell in the US, owing to some resemblance to their native snowbells, Halesia. Another moniker, Lily of the Valley Tree, references the sweet scent of the larger and more bell-shaped flowers. It often forms a large shrub, but can make a significant tree with a handsome rounded crown given optimum conditions. The distinctive, irregular branching pattern often displayed is thought to be adaptation to deter browsing in habitat (Hogan 2008).
Crinodendron patagua is native to the valleys between Anconcaqua and Concepcion (Bricker 1991), where it forms a component of the Chilean mattoral, the sclerophyllous vegetation found in the Mediterranean climate area (Dallman 1998). Across its distribution, it is most prevalent growing along seasonal riverbeds or in low-lying, moist areas, as part of humid stands in association with Drimys winteri and Persea lingue (Moreira-Muñoz 2011), while elsewhere across its range it grows with Fuchsia magellanica, Luma chequen and Psoralea glandulosa (Bricker 1991). It is occasionally also found in lower rainfall areas of the Mediterranean region, although still often adjacent to watercourses. For example, Roy Lancaster recalled seeing shrubby specimens growing in La Campana National Park near Santiago, associated with palms (Jubaea chilensis), cacti (Trichocereus chilensis) and succulents (Puya chilensis) (Edwards & Marshall 2019; R. Lancaster pers. comm. 2022). In Chilean cultivation, it is frequently seen in urban areas growing as street trees (M. Gardner pers. comm. 2022).
Such variation in habitat supports suggestions that it is more tolerant of drier soils & full sun in cultivation than its better-known relation, in principle making it more amenable to wider planting (Hogan 2008). However, overall hardiness seems to vary, as would be expected given its varied distribution and altitudinal range. Compared with C. hookerianum, some report it to be much hardier; Hogan (2008) observed one tree at University of Washington Arboretum, Seattle that repeatedly withstood periods of –12°C with no visible damage. In the UK, it has always been considered to be more tender when grown in the open, with its lack of hardiness a key reason it is seldom seen. In favourable localities, cultivation as a wall shrub is often recommended (Arnold-Forster 1948; Bean 1981), with the best specimens often seen growing against walls in all but the mildest counties (pers. obs.). Examples at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Chelsea Physic Garden, and Nymans have all benefitted from such protection, making handsome, shapely small trees c. 8 m × 80 cm (Tree Register 2022) which flower well in full sun (pers. obs.). As a caveat, however, a magnificent specimen measured at 13.8 m in 2000 (The Tree Register 2022) that grew in a sheltered spot not far from the sea at Avoca Handweavers, Glencormac, Co Wicklow, was killed to the ground in the 2010: a few small shoots from the base were all that was left by 2016 when observed by John Grimshaw (pers. comm. 2022). Further north, a young tree has grown superbly on a west-facing wall in Jennifer Bute’s Edinburgh garden (T. Christian pers. comm. 2022). In coastal Somerset it has been used as a hedge plant, with abundant seedlings being produced (D. Croucher pers. comm. to J. Grimshaw, 2018). It can be fast-growing in cultivation, enforcing the need for a warm, sheltered position with sufficient summer heat to ripen new growth, in order to prevent cold damage during winter.